Great Horned Owl Barking

I had a meeting at The Raptor Center yesterday.  At the end, we got a brief tour, which despite having given hundreds in the past, I was excited to do because it's been about 3 years since I volunteered there and things change quickly.  Many of the birds I worked with are still in the turkey vulture who like me is 37  years old. But because it's owl breeding season, the great horned owls were all very hooty in the courtyard.  One of the imprinted owls (a bird raised by people and imprinted on them) gives a strange sound for an adult.  It barks.  This is a sound usually given by immature birds and is associated with food begging.  In the wild they would grow out of that.  But imprints do it a lot.  I think this is a sound people hear quite a bit in the wild at night and since it is such an un owl like sound, it's hard to id.

Here's a video (with a really dramatic title sequence courtesy of Non Birding Bill):

Random Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawk in the snow.  This is a bird being seen in the New Brighton area of the Twin Cities.  I found it hunting an open area along with 2 red-tailed hawks--buteos getting along.  Apparently it's been around awhile.  I see it's sunny today, I may go back out and get some sunny photos.

Hazards of Hand Feeding Raptors

Warning! This video gets kinda gross...especially for me.

After we banded birds this morning at Carpenter Nature Center, I was asked if I could help feed some of their education birds of prey. Their red-tailed hawk is a very easy going imprinted bird. He eats easily from the hand, so I thought I would take a quick video so you could get an idea of what it's like to watch a red-tail up close as he eats a gutted mouse. Well, he got a chunk of mouse lodged in the wrong way and tried to gag it out as if it were a pellet...

And there you have it, the chunk of mouse nailed me right in the kisser. I don't know if you caught it, but you can see a red smudge on the right side of my mouth--from the offending piece of regurgitated mouse.

Here's what hit me. It's bad enough feeding peregrines who pluck feathers all over you, but leave it to a red-tail to up the ante and nail you with actual flesh.
Yuck. The price I pay for cool birding experiences.

Weekend Banding Extravaganza Part 1

Non Birding Bill went away to New York for the weekend and I found myself a bachelorette for a few days. I had some plans for songbird banding at Mr. Neil's on Sunday, but called my buddy Amber and asked if she wanted to go up for the day on Saturday to Frank's to band hawks and then come back on Sunday to band songbirds. She was game and I was glad for the good company. I was a touch worried that I had jinxed our banding weekend. I dropped NBB off at the airport at 4am on Friday, came home and fell asleep, missing Friday banding at Carpenter. I figured I would get in enough practice over the weekend. I worried with the few birds on Saturday that Sunday would be a bummer. I was wrong.

We got in a couple of sharp-shinned hawks. It's still a bit early in the season, but a slow day in a hawk blind is better than a great day in the office. We didn't see huge amounts of hawks flying the skies but that left time for jokes and witty witty repartee--not unlike the Algonquin Round Table, only substitute painful bird puns for witty repartee and waxy chocolate donuts, cheetos, and gas station coffee for martinis.

We got in a cute little female kestrel. It's always surprising when a kestrel comes into the nets--they're about the same size as the bait pigeon and it's surprising that they think prey that size is a good idea. She was a passage (hatched this year) bird, so perhaps she's still trying to figure out what is sensible prey.

After she was banded and released she landed on a spruce. A second female kestrel (on the left) landed on a spruce near her. I wonder if these two were in the same nest this past summer? The bird we released started preening her. Amber's boyfriend says that the birds are muttering, "Damn greasy primates!" after having been handled and banded. The second kestrel soon followed suit, even though she had not been banded. She was cute, she kept rubbing the top of her head on the spruce top--a great way to scratch those itchy feather shafts.

One of the sharp-shinned hawks that flew in had just hunted successfully. Te toes were covered with blood and had a couple of feathers still stuck to them. The feathers were a bit olive. Amber and I were trying to suss out what the prey could have been--warbler, sparrow? We think we figured it out during the next day's songbird banding.

We stayed until about 4pm, only three birds had been banded up to that point--2 sharp-shinned hawks and a kestrel. I'll be back up later this season--hopefully with photos of goshawks.

Marathon Birding & Banding Weekend

Just came off from a wild weekend of banding. I'm feeling as rough as this mid-molt robin looks. We did a little bit of hawk banding and a whole lotta songbird banding. Here is a tiny video of a kestrel that we got into the nets. She was very fascinated with my purple nail polish:

Dawn, It Takes Fish Oil Out Of Your Way

Thanks to Michele Hope for sending me this link for an update about the eagles that got stuck in some chum. I must say, Dawn is getting some mighty fine publicity according to this quote from the article:

"Cleaning the eagles requires scrubbing them off with unscented Dawn dish detergent to remove the fish oil and slime that soaked their feathers, then rinsing them in a wood-framed structure covered in plastic to keep things hot and humid."

Another interesting note about this case, all the eagles involved in the incident and recovering Bird TLC are male. I'm not sure what about that means. Be sure to check out this slide show of eagles getting a scrub down.

The Long Road For Peregrine 568

WARNING! Some of the photos in this entry deal with a bird injury and some surgical techniques to heal that injury. If you are eating a meal or are kind of squeamish, you may want to stop reading this entry after the third photo. Just an FYI.

After the Holidays and my travel schedule, it was time to get back to my volunteering at The Raptor Center and an update on our favorite peregrine.

They were busy in the clinic and while I was waiting, I checked out some of the other birds the vets were working on. This was a falconry bird that got injured in the field. This peregrine falcon was out hunting and she got into a thermal and was soaring high. An adult red-tailed hawk tried to soar into the same thermal. The peregrine looked down, saw the red-tail and stooped! The falcon dove down and hit the red-tail, locked onto it and the falconer watched the birds disappear out of the sky. It took him fifteen minutes to track them down and he found both the red-tail and the peregrine on the ground (and a couple of prairie falcons nearby). The red-tail flew off when the falconer walked up, but there were puncture wounds on the peregrine's face--indicating that she had been footed in the head by the red-tail. Fortunately, the falcon did not lose an eye, but her face did swell up. She appears to be healing well and remarkably did not suffer any broken bones.

Check it out, another way to use that handy tool known as the Dremel--trimming beaks. Above, a vet trims the beak of a young Cooper's hawk. As birds are recovering at TRC, they don't always rub their beaks well like they do in the wild and they can get kind of long, so the vets have to trim them--this is called coping a beak. It's better for the bird and a little easier on the vets when they get bitten by a bird.

So, while I was in Atlanta at Bird Watch America, I got a call from Dr. Julia Ponder the Associate Director of TRC. I knew that there was only one reason for the call--something was up with Peregrine 568. She is still alive, but had to have some surgery. It turned out that her leg healed improperly, causing some long term foot problems. It's at this point that the photos might get a little gross for some people.

Even thought the fracture was healed, the vets noticed that the falcon kept getting bumblefoot on both feet (that's some cleaned up bumblefoot in the above photo). They did some checking and it turned out that when the broken leg healed, that it was a little bit shorter than the other leg. Peregrine falcons are designed for extreme precision, this a bird that can dive over 200 miles per hour and needs everything perfect when hunting prey at that speed. The shorter leg was also affecting how she was perching and aggravating the bumblefoot. So, Dr. Ponder said that they had two options: 1. Put the bird down or 2. Try an experimental surgery that has been tried successfully on a parrot: fracture the leg again and as it's healing, periodically separate the bone, forcing length. Perhaps you have heard of limb lengthening surgery? It's like that.

They did the surgery last week and Dr. Ponder said that if something went wrong they would know right away. They did the surgery and it went well. Now came the hard part of lengthening the fracture once a day of 0.7mm. Since this is painful, Peregrine 568 is put under anesthesia (That's Dr. Mitch putting the falcon under while a clinic volunteer holds the falcon in the above photo).

Here's the fixator on the outside of her leg--she's got some bruising (notice the green, birds bruise green). I'm not sure if you would call her a cybird or frankenbird, but she's got some heavy duty metal works attached to her leg.

Here's what it looks like in the X-Rays. Check out the toes--they are wrapped in duct tape, but it kind of looks like eggs.

Here is an X-Ray that was taken not long after all the apparatus were put in last week.

I think this one was taken yesterday, so you can see that there is a tiny bit more space between the fracture.

So, here's Dr. Mitch doing the extension--although the official surgical term is called "distraction." They kept talking about doing the distraction all morning. I wonder what the origin of that is? Let's distract the bone into growing longer?

After the distraction and all of her bumblefoot areas were cleaned she was wrapped up. They put padding on both feet and seal that with duct tape to help with the bumblefoot. Then they have to clean and put padding around the fixator and then wrap it with duct tape--I swear, they used half a role on this bird. So, now we have to see how that fracture heals. If that heals well, she will need further surgery to correct some of the bumblefoot issues.

Miles to go before she flies. Some may ask, why go this far for one bird. Number one, thanks to the blog--lots of people know about Peregrine 568 and have a vested interest in what happens. Number 2, what we learn from this experimental surgery in birds could help someone's beloved pet in the future. Number 3, she's a young bird with several years of survival ahead of her.

So, not the best news, but not totally crap news either.

Eagle's Opportunistic Nature Gets Them In Trouble


From the Seattle Times:

ANCHORAGE -- Most of the 30 bald eagles who survived a disastrous dive into a truck full of fish guts are close to recovery, said officials at Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Two birds have died, but most of the remaining may soon be released.

Another 20 eagles died Friday after dozens swarmed an uncovered truck full of fish waste outside a processing plant in Kodiak, Alaska.

The birds became too soiled to fly or clean themselves, and with temperatures in the midteens, began to succumb to the cold. Some birds became so weak they sank into the fish slime and were crushed.

The truck's contents had to be dumped onto the floor of the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant so the birds could be retrieved.

Workers from the seafood plant and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service washed the birds in dishwashing soap to help remove the fish oil. The birds spent the night drying out in a warehouse space, Gary Wheeler of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge told the Anchorage Daily News.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers are investigating the incident.

Eagles are protected under federal law and killing them is a crime.

It is still to early to determine what penalties, if any, the seafood company may face, said Kim Speckman, a special agent who is part of the investigation.

Officers consider numerous factors looking into incidents such as this, including intent, she said.

"It's pretty obvious in this case nobody intended to break the law," Speckman said. The seafood plant has been very responsive and cooperative, she said.


Era Aviation and Alaska Airlines are bringing the birds from Kodiak to Anchorage so they can be cleaned and cared for by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center before being returned to the wild.

Six of the eagles arrived on afternoon flights Sunday and 12 more were expected on evening flights, said Cindy Palmatier, director of avian care at the center.

The rest of the birds should arrive on flights today, said Gary Wheeler, manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which has been caring for the birds since Friday's bizarre episode at the Ocean Beauty Seafoods plant in Kodiak.

Twenty bald eagles died when about 50 of the birds dived into an uncovered dump truck filled with fish guts.

Most of the dead birds were drowned or crushed in the gooey substance, which one wildlife official in Kodiak likened to quicksand. Two died later Friday night, but the rest appear to be getting better, Wheeler said.

"They're getting a little feisty now," he said. "They're feeling their oats, for sure, so you can tell they're feeling better. They're more perky. They're wanting to fly."

Wheeler said wildlife workers in Kodiak planned to wash the eagles again this weekend when a bird biologist with the International Bird Rescue and Research Center recommended sending the birds to the rescue center in Anchorage instead.

"The folks there have more expertise," Wheeler said. "This is the first time since the Exxon Valdez oil spill that we've had to handle this many birds. We've kind of improvised."

No one's certain where the eagles will be released once they have recovered.

The city of Kodiak -- home to about 500 eagles, Wheeler said -- would like them back. But the logistics of flying the eagles back to Kodiak -- three on this flight, five on that flight, until all 30 have made the trip -- could mean they're released in Anchorage, Palmatier said.

At least there's no rush to determine the birds' fates. The eagles are likely to remain at the recovery center for at least two weeks, Palmatier said.

If bird lovers want to help, she added, they can do so in two ways -- by donating salmon (frozen is fine; processed is not) or cash.

The salmon will help keep the eagles fed and the money will help pay for the center's utility bills, which are expected to soar as high as an eagle with so many birds to take care of.

Workers at the center cranked up the heat this weekend to between 75 and 80 degrees to keep the eagles warm, and it will use a lot of hot water in the coming days to wash and rinse the birds.

Keeping the birds warm is as important as getting them clean, Palmatier said, because the birds can't stay warm by themselves with feathers soiled by oily fish guts.

"They don't have a lot of thermal regulation because of the oil," she said. "They're very cold."

And stinky.

"It's a new form of aromatherapy," Palmatier said with a laugh as she described the scene at the center. "It smells very fishy."

What I want to know is, what made the eagles fly into the tank? Most birds have a poorly developed sense of smell, but were the eagles able to smell the fish oil? When the first bird got in and stuck, did that activity to get out attract more eagles? Are they able to see the fish oil in the ultra violet spectrum and that's what attracted them to the chum? Has anything like this happened before? I wonder if this has happened with birds people don't care about like double crested cormorants but because it was a few dozen bald eagles this time it gets media attention? I'm curious to see where this goes.

I also think that's it's speaks volumes about the company that it helped get the eagles out by dumping the nasty contents onto the factory floor and the workers helped clean the eagles.

Also, that's a whole lotta birds for a rehab center to get in all at once. If anyone has a spare few bucks, you might consider sending a little to the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. Given the daily readership here, if only a third of us gave $5 bucks, that would be a good size donation towards fish purchases.

I Needed Today

I was feelin' a tad stressed yesterday. Some of it travel related, some of it scheduling related, some of it money related, some of it deadline related, some of it work related, some of it book related--blah, blah, blah, blah, BLEH. It was to the point where I was even having trouble sleeping, where you wake up in the middle of the night and have even more irrational worries like, "I need to lose ten pounds." or "Am I going to have time to buy pickles and a baguette before Thursday?"--just ridiculous crap. And then I had today and realized that in the end, life is really cool.

I had my shift at The Raptor Center today.

First up, injured peregrine falcon number 568 is doing really well! She was very feisty when I took this photo right before her examination this morning. Her pins are out and her bone has healed.

Alana, who was her original vet has left The Raptor Center--it's a teaching hospital so there is a steady rotation of vets. The peregrine is now in the care of Dr. Mitch (in green on the left, who has been at The Raptor Center all of 9 days). Today, Dr. Julia Ponder (Executive Director and Vet) also checked on the peregrine with Dr. Mitch to make sure that the healed leg fracture was stable.

The doctors tested both legs to make sure that the fracture healed properly and that the leg wasn't sticking out at an odd angle. After that, Dr. Mitch and Dr. Ponder gave her a sort of falcon pedicure, by sloughing off any tape or medication residue on her toes. The big news is that the healed fracture looks stable and after the Thanksgiving Holiday, our injured falcon will be moved to a flight room with other peregrines--hopefully she will get along with the other peregrines in there and get used to moving around in a larger space! If all goes well, she will move on to flight training. What great news!

As if that wasn't great news enough, I got to give an All About Owls program. Most of the time at The Raptor Center I do a general Raptors of Minnesota program but periodically, groups will request something specific like owls, falconry, eagles, or just about anything. It's fun to break out of the routine. The group was very into it and there was 5th grade boy who knew almost all the owls that I brought out. The only one he missed was the above bird. He called it a ferruginous pygmy owl. Even though the bird is actually an eastern screech owl, I gave him props for even knowing that there is such a species as a pygmy owl.

After the program I got a chance to feed our education barn owl on my gloved hand. There's something relaxing about having a bird feel comfortable enough to eat while perched on your arm, you can't help but feel honored. It's also a fun opportunity to observe the birds at close range. I love getting lost in the stiff feathers on an owls facial disc.

All in all, not a bad day.